Blog Post #7

Visit from M&D

Mom and Dad flew all the way from Canada to visit me in Amakusa for 5 days. I picked them up from the Kumamoto airport Wednesday night, after their long journey. Since the drive from Kumamoto to Amakusa is so beautiful, it would have been a shame to do it in the dark, so we decided to stay the night in the city. We spent the night at my friend Sheridan’s apartment, as she was away for the weekend and didn’t mind the three of us crashing…what a sweetie.

The next morning, we went walking around in Kumamoto city, had a ‘combini’ (convenience store) breakfast and then got in the car to head home. We took out time driving back and stopped at a few places along the road that I’ve always wanted to stop at. Upon arriving Amakusa and I took them to the conveyor belt sushi restaurant. This is not GOOD sushi, by Japanese standards, but it certainly tastes good, it’s cheap, and it’s fun. I just love the way these conveyor belt sushi restaurants operate. They’re so freakin’ efficient. Hear me out…

You set up your own dishes and replenish your own soy sauce, ginger, tea, etc. Everything you need is right there at your table. You choose your food off the conveyor belt, or order whatever you can’t find from an Ipad at your table. Everything is 100 yen unless otherwise stated, and if you need wait staff, you simply press the button on your table and they’ll promptly come over. (Most Japanese restaurants have this magic button) As a former waitress, I think this sort of system is fantastic. Constantly going to tables to refill drinks/sauces and having to ‘check in’ on tables periodically can be such a waste of time. Western restaurants could learn a thing or two from the Japanese.

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Pit stop on our way to the island
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Touch down in Amakusa. Time to pull out the weird poses.

Since over the course of 12 years, we had several Japanese students living in our family home, we’ve always been intrigued by the culture. So it was great for M&D to emerse themselves in it. We spent the duration of their trip talking about Japan, it’s society and culture, and it’s differences from the West. This country couldn’t be more opposite from Canada in many ways so there’s lots to talk about. Dad started a list in his travel journal of things they liked about Japan and things they didn’t like, which grew as the days went on. It was interesting to hear their take on this amazing & bizarre country I’ve been living in.

One of their ‘likes’ was that prices in Japan seem fairer. I agreed with this sentiment. You don’t feel like you’re being ‘ripped off’ as often as you do back home. Prices for restaurants, cabs, hotels, etc, all feel very reasonable and honest. And even if it does seem like a big expenditure, you’re being treated so kindly (with the best customer service in the world) that it always feels worth it. The Japanese go above and beyond for their customers, the way it should be.

On their ‘dislikes’ was the lack of garbage cans around. This is something that took a lot of getting used to for me, too. There literally aren’t garbage cans in public places. You won’t find one in a mall, a busy street or park or even a festival. Yet, it is incredibly clean here. I very rarely find garbage on the ground, and if I do I always pick it up because it seems so out of place. Your garbage is considered your business, and you dispose of it in your home, properly. This means that you if you buy something to eat while out and about, you may be hanging onto the trash all day until you get home.

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Out for a wee hike

I appreciated the fact that my parents also took note of how difficult everyday life can be for me here sometimes. Seemingly simple tasks like telling a cab driver an address, calling to make a reservation or asking about food allergens can be a stressful hassle without Japanese language ability. Using Google as a solution doesn’t normally work either. Since most info on the net is in Japanese it doesn’t pick up any info from my inquiries. So I’m constantly making assumptions and inferences in my every day life. There’s also the fact that I’m basically illiterate, I face discrimination and I live in a place that’s no easily accessible to the rest of the mainland. I wasn’t looking for a pity party.. I am so privileged to be here and I’m grateful for it every day. But it is a big adjustment and at times that has been tough. Having my parents take note of these things and offer me some compassion felt nice.

Trip to Nagasaki and the Return of the Enigmatic Tinderman

Remember my adventures with Tinderman? He’s another JET, living in Nagasaki. I wrote about our interesting encounter in Blog post #3. He and I have sort of kept in touch since then, sending a friendly text now and then. So the night before our trip to Nagasaki, I texted him to tell him that I’d be in his city for the weekend. He told me he was busy Saturday with the English recitation contest, but would be free Sunday.

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Mom, en route to Nagasaki

Upon arriving in Nagasaki, we dropped our stuff at our hotel room and went to the atomic bomb museum. We walked in and saw a sign outside the auditorium that read ‘English Recitation Contest’ I poked my head into the room, which contained just a few people on stage setting up. And there was Tinderman! What a pleasant surprise to find him there. He was busy working but we said hello and planned to talk later. We then made our way through the museum.

The atomic bomb museum was incredible and heartbreaking. The three of us took our time and spent a few hours walking through the exhibits, independently. We learned a lot. I was impressed by the exhibits and the way in which they told the story; fairly. They weren’t blaming anyone for what happened, just stating facts.

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Paper cranes sent from all over the world to the Atomic Bomb museum. Anyone who was in French Immersion at Rockingham Elementary School remembers making 1000 of these in grade 4 after reading ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’

The recounting of the events from actual survivors towards the end of the museum was what moved me the most. The sign that I posted a photo of below is the one that sent me to tears, which at that point has been welling up for a while. We left with a much better understanding of the dropping of the atomic bomb and with the gravity of the tragedy impressed upon us.

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My parents and I recognized how privileged we were to visit this museum and Nagasaki in general…a city that had to completely rebuilt itself on a foundation of ashes and tragedy. I reckon it was a good call to have the museum first on our agenda because it allowed us to appreciate our time in the city that much more. That being said, the tone of the day was certainly more somber because of it. Naturally, our spirits weren’t as high as they had been.

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The Nagasaki Peace Memorial, not far from the museum

We all felt very at ease in Nagasaki. It’s a beautiful city and it reminded us a lot of our hometown of Halifax. One thing my parents and I took note of was how peaceful it felt there. We picked up on this upon exiting the atomic bomb museum, which likely gave nuance to our perceptions. But it did feel particularly peaceful for the bustling city that it is. You could actually feel the calmness surrounding you, despite being among buildings and traffic in the middle of the city. It was such an interesting sensation. ‘You can cut the peacefulness in the air with a knife,’ Mum noted. I know this vibe stems from the tragedy and hardship that this city and it’s people endured, although I can’t put my finger on exactly how that works.

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Mum was asking parents if she could take photos of their kids.. they’re just sooo sweet. Not to mention fashionable! Look at the lil’ one on the left, omg.

We didn’t make any prior plans for Sunday, so I got in touch with Tinderman and he met the three of us in the seaside park, where we sat and chatted for a bit. My parents had plenty of Nagasaki-related questions for Tinderman. Mom asked what kind of birds were soaring around everywhere. He responded that they were hawks and preceded to tell us a story about his mother who once got her apple snatched right out of her hand by one. We all laughed. “Things like that always happen to my mom” he said. I thought to myself how things like that always happen to me too.

We parted ways for a few hours..Tinderman and I headed to the art gallery while my parents walked around the city. Before entering the gallery, he and I sat on the steps where he showed me some of his own artwork, which I requested he bring along. He is a very talented illustrator. I’ve seen some of his work in pictures he’s sent me, but it was a treat to see it in person. Recently, I’ve gotten into drawing (thanks to my B.C. Grandma..more on that later) and I’ve been really enjoying it. Lately, however, I’ve been allowing my practice to fall by the wayside. But my trip to Nagasaki left me feeling artistically invigorated, if you will, and I returned feeling inspired to draw more.

We then checked out the art gallery and went for lunch. Since the restaurant we had chosen was too busy, we decided to buy a boxed lunch (bento) at the grocery store instead. We brought our bentos to the river to sit and eat near Nagasaki’s famous ‘Spectacles Bridge’.

We had been eating for about five minutes when wouldn’t you know it.. a freakin’ hawk swoops down, flies between mine and Tinderman’s heads, hitting me with it’s wing and snatches both of my ‘inari’ from my bento before flying off. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of us and I nearly choked on my mouthful of food. How ridiculous was it that we had only just been talking about how that had happening to his mother. We laughed.

The devious hawk remained sitting on a power line above us, watching our every move. This didn’t permit much enjoyment for the rest of the meal. We ate fast, trying to cover our food with our bodies, and keeping an eye on the hawk. I was a little peeved at that bird, considering he stole what was by far the best part of my lunch.

Later, when we found my parents, I said ‘you wouldn’t believe what happened to us’ and mum actually guessed correctly, ‘don’t tell me a hawk stole your food.’ Lol.

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Tinderman at the scene of the crime, Nagasaki’s Spectacles bridge

It was an interesting experience reconnecting with Tinderman again after our weekend back in August. I love Tinder because it gives you the opportunity to meet interesting people who you wouldn’t have otherwise met and who may not be someone you’d typically hang around with, therefore, a learning experience typically ensues. This was certainly the case here. His character is so different from mine (which I explained in detail before), and he fascinates me. (He’s also an Aries, which is the astrological sign that I’ve come to realise I’m attracted to. I find their ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ attitude very compelling.)

We caught up and reminisced on his trip to Amakusa, which felt like ages ago. Since I had written about it in depth on my blog, and therefore pondered it thoroughly, I had memories from our last meeting etched in my mind. So I couldn’t help but to bring them up. When he visited I was brand new to Japan and hadn’t even started teaching yet. It felt like I had come a long way since then.

At one point, I mentioned that my parents sort of knew who he was, since they had read about him on my blog. Understandably, he wanted to read it. I was a little bit embarrassed to show him since that post was particularly honest, and in it I shed light on many of my character defects. Moreover, I wrote it with no intention of him ever reading it. But he and I had been very forthright with each other up until that point and it almost seemed wrong not to share it with him, so I sent him the link later that day.

He read it and messaged me to tell me how much he’d enjoyed it. He found it very interesting to read someone’s impression of him and he thought I described his character perfectly.

More from M&D’s Japanese Vacay

-A friend of mine, Julian, helped me to arrange a sailing excursion, since my dad is a sailor and wanted to check out the Amakusan seas. The boat captain and his three crew members were Japanese and spoke only limited English so Julian (who owns his own English school) invited along one of his students to translate. He figured she and I would hit it off (which we did) and it would be good English practice for her. It was a lovely day with perfect weather. We laughed a lot, especially while discussing the differences between Japanese and Canadian gestures. (Example: the Canadian gesture for ‘that smells bad’ is the same gesture for ‘no’ in Japanese. This was so confusing to me when I first arrived.)

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Mom, Dad and Hitomi, our translator, and my new pal!

-We went to the Amakusa Ceramics festival. This region of Japan is famous for it’s pottery and that was plain to see at the event. My parents and I really enjoyed exploring all the beautiful ceramics. I was absolutely giddy. It made me want to get back on a plane to Halifax to reenroll at NSCAD. I left with new cereal bowl, which I adore.

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-We stayed in a Japanese style hotel room in Nagasaki. This was a gift from two of our former exchange students. It was quite an experience. The hotel was located atop a mountain and the view was phenomenal. The interior was fancy and luxurious, but dated. It looked like it hadn’t been redone since the 70’s and reminded me of the hotel from the shining. It also included an indoor/outdoor onsen (hot spring) which we all made use of. After a long day of walking around, we were looking forward to jumping in our big, fluffy hotel beds and turning on the T.V., but upon entering our room we realised that was not an option. The room was big, with a bathroom, dining and sitting area complete with tatami floors (traditional Japanese straw mats). No beds. It was beautiful, though! We got into our complimentary Yukatas (like a Kimono) and our three course dinner was served to us in our room by hotel staff. Later, more staff came to remove the dining furniture and set up our futons on the floor. They treated us as if we were royalty…it was pretty extreme. We felt a little out of our element. It was an interesting Japanese experience. One we won’t soon forget.

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-We rented the movie ‘Steve Jobs’ (2015), since we had all recently read Steve Jobs biography (Walter Isaacson) and loved it. It’s been one of my favorite books to date,so I highly recommend it. I enjoyed the movie, too.

-We went to Sakitsu, a little town 45 mins away from my house. It’s famous for it’s Christian church (since Amakusa is known as the place where many Christians fled during the edo period) and is currently in the process of getting UNESCO world heritage status.  There, we found a set of stairs and not knowing where they lead. We hiked up and up and up and up. At the top we found an amphitheater with a gorgeous view. I foolishly preformed Beauty and the Beast’s ‘Little Town’ , which my dad video tapped to send to my sister, who always says I have a Disney Princess voice. Lol.

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A Sakitsu view

img_1883-I introduced them to my house family and they treated us to a big dinner at a beautiful restaurant. Everyone got along great and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We never seem to tire of discussing the differences between our two cultures. There is endless material to discuss.

-We went out for dinner with my two fellow American ALTs, Sam and Chiri. It was so nice. We talked about Japan and politics, most of us under the impression that Trump would never actually win. Lol.

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M&D, Chiri and Sam ❤

-Mom and I went to my yoga class together. It was so lovely. Mom got to meet my teacher and my Japanese friend who introduced me to the yoga class, both of whom are absolute angels. They were so happy to meet my mom, whose a yoga teacher herself. They had lots to talk about. Mom told them about the delicious dessert she had had at the Ceramics festival with her coffee to which my yoga teacher responded, ‘I made those!’ Cute.

-On M&D’s last day in town I had to work so they hung out in Hondo. I came home to a clean apartment and some newly shined Blundstones, with spaghetti sauce and a big pot of soup in the fridge. How nice of them!

All in all, we had a really nice five days together. I was worried about how they’d handle the 12 hour time difference, but they handled it like champs. I was so happy to spend time with them. It was that little piece of home that I needed.

It certainly took a toll on me, though. Spending that much time in close corners with you family can be tough. While generally we get along great, we can certainly get on each other’s nerves when were together for long periods like that. Moreover, knowing they only had a short five days in Japan, I felt I had to fill it with experiences, to make it worth their while. So almost every hour of the day was accounted for. This made for a great trip, and I’m happy that it worked out that way. But it was stressful for me. I was always concerned about their well being and planning our next move. The people-pleaser in me was out, full force. In addition, it was up to me to do all the ordering, asking for directions, buying tickets, etc. Even though my knowledge of Japanese is very basic, I know more than my parents. So the logistics were up to me. I was happy to do all of this, though. But by the end of the trip, not surprisingly, I ended up sick with a cold.

Gratitude

This week, I’m grateful for my B.C. family.

One of my mottos is ‘don’t forget to talk to strangers.’ It has lead me to many a great experiences in my lifetime. I’ve felt disconnected with that part of myself since moving here, actually. Because of the language barrier, I can’t simply strike up a conversation with a stranger like I often did before. That’s probably why I’m been so into Tinder since coming here, haha.

These ‘words to live by’ lead me to something wonderful back in May. I was working at Fort Langley National Historic site in B.C, and one day I striked up a conversation with a lady I didn’t know…a ‘stranger’. Despite being in the midst of dealing with an elementary school field trip and only having a few minutes to myself, something was drawing me to this lady. So I listened to my gut and went to chat with her. (For privacy’s sake, I will refer to her as Gram, which is what her grandkids call her.)

Much to my amazement, Gram was a StFX grad, same as me! She had moved to N.S. as a teenager and spent several years there before relocating to B.C. We chatted for a few minutes, but then I had to go tend to the kiddies.

That afternoon, she came back looking for me and gave me her contact info. About a week later, she her grandsons were picking me up to bring me back to their place (about an hours drive from mine) for my days off. For the remainder of my short few months in B.C., I spent as much time as I could with Gram, her husband, her daughter and two grandsons, all of whom are absolutely wonderful. While together, we had such great experiences. We took day trips and went hiking and did art. This family could have their own adventure T.V. show, they are always learning and taking on projects and spending time outdoors. It’s so inspiring. They taught me a lot.

They made me feel so welcomed and comfortable. And they allowed me to hang around their house like it was my own, which I appreciated so much. We had many delicious family meals, all-homemade by Gram and adhering to my annoying food restrictions.

Gram and I are very much alike. We both like to move around a lot, enjoy adventure and spending time outdoors, and have strong feminine values. Our connection was undeniable. She shared some amazing stories and was always open to hearing mine, too. She is such a strong willed, adventurous woman, and I absolutely admire her.

I will forever remember Gram as the person who taught me to draw. Or moreso, that yes, I could draw, (anyone can) despite what I had been telling myself my whole life. After overcoming my self-doubt regarding the practice, I started drawing for enjoyment, in the cute little sketchbook she gave me. And I have continued ever since.

Simply being spending time with such a  family was so wonderful. I appreciated their company so much. Especially since I had only just moved to a tiny B.C. town, not easily accessible, and I had no car and not many friends. They were incredibly kind and gracious towards me.

Upon moving to Japan, Gram and her family and I have kept in touch via e-mail. They follow my blog and send me photos of their latest outdoor adventures.

In October, Gram and her family went back to N.S. for a visit, and took time out of their only day in Halifax to meet with my sisters, both of whom had heard me rave about my amazing ‘B.C. family’ on numerous occasions. They all met at a restaurant. Nothing made me happier than hearing about that and seeing the group photo from that day.

Gram and my B.C. family have been so good to me.  I am so grateful to know them. It is no accident that I ran into Gram that day at work.

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They recently e-mail this photo. They wrote ‘Mary Ellen’ on the rock. Bless them! ❤

Accepting 21kms of Defeat with Self Compassion

Remember that half marathon I signed up for back in August? Well, I didn’t do it. And I’ve decided I’m cool with that.

While my half marathon registration was probably over ambitious to begin with, seeing as I’m not a runner, my training started off well. In August & September I was running three or four times a week and for the most part, I was actually enjoying it. But I stopped when I went to Okinawa, for vacation’s sake. After Okinawa, I hit some serious ‘phase two’ on the cultural fatigue curve (which I’ve discussed in other blog posts), meaning that I had little energy and motivation. So I stopped running all together.

Phase two persisted and so did my new sedentary lifestyle. I’d wake up in the morning and plan to run but then get home from school and change course, often getting in bed by 8:00pm. Every day that passed I would come up with another excuse NOT to run and the resulting self-criticism would ensue.

Most days, it was simply that I didn’t feel up to it. To be honest, I haven’t been feeling great for quite a while now. I’m not sick, per se, but certainly not myself. It’s likely a combination of stress/cultural fatigue and my drastic change of diet (which properly includes more gluten than I am aware of).

As time went on, it became clear that I would not be able to run for the duration of the 21 kms, so I’d try my best to run as far as I could and then walk the rest. This was not ideal, but better than nothing.

While no part of me actually wanted to run, bowing out of the race was not an option in my mind. I had already paid the money and had made plans to run it with my two friends. Not to mention, I told all of you about it in this blog. Quitting would result in my underlying feelings of inadequacy revealing themselves. And that would be too difficult to face, given the already dismal version of my ‘phase 2’ self that I was dealing with. I had become self-indulgent enough as it was, the least I could do for myself was stick to my plan and run this race.

Tinderman was also supposed to run a half marathon, but decided against it when he got an injury. I told him my predicament and he advised me not to run either. And I realized he was right.

Not running the race suddenly seemed like the obvious decision. What had I been thinking? It would be have been silly to run at that point, without adequate training and when my body was already in sub-par condition. I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself and injuries would have been inevitable. It would have been a harmful pursuit, rather than a healthy one like I had originally intended.

Up until that point, I had mentioned my predicament (which was a constant weight on my shoulders) to numerous people, most of whom responded with something along the lines of ‘Oh don’t worry. You’ll be fine. You can do it.’ I guess I just needed to someone to tell me the opposite…that it was OK to not run.

So I accepted defeat, right then and there in the Nagasaki Art Gallery, and I felt a weight off my shoulders. It’s liberating, I’ve realized, to say no to the things you don’t want to do. And instead of facing feelings of inadequacy, I turned it into a lesson in self-compassion.

Self compassion is a concept that I’ve become more familiar with in the past few years, and that I’m consciously working to adopt into my everyday life. It basically means treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you would towards someone you love. For me, this involves unlearning habits that I’ve built over a lifetime.

Not too long ago, self compassion was a concept I did not understand, and I reckon if someone tried to explain it to me, I would scoff and think it was for sissies. Recently, I found an old journal that I kept from four years ago. Reading it made me feel uneasy and quite frankly, ashamed of myself. The journal was from around the time when I returned from my exchange in France, with about 25 pounds of extra weight on me (much of which I still carry around today). The way I used to criticize myself, using words that I wouldn’t dream of using on a friend, was disconcerting. I would cut myself down and basically punish myself when I didn’t succeed, because I felt I deserved it. As if that kind of harsh self-judgment would force me to push myself harder to succeed the next time. As if letting even the smallest failure slide meant that I was succumbing to becoming a failure myself. I know now that it absolutely doesn’t work that way.

Now, I understand that I am just as deserving of receiving kindness and gentleness as the people around me, to whom I give it with ease. And when I’m faced with difficulties, the best way to get past them is to soften into them, accepting myself and the situation for what it is. It’s not about repressing the difficulties/failures/suffering. It’s about accepting them, allowing them to pass through me with compassion and moving on.

Conversely to what my previous mindset had me believing, engaging in self-compassion actually leads to better motivation. Because it decreases our fear of failure and thus encourages us to try again, feeling supported. It helps us to get in touch with ourselves, seeing beyond the distorted view that comes from self-criticism. It fosters self-confidence and self-love, neither of which one can have enough of. It’s a really powerful practice.

Facing the pressure of running a half marathon that I didn’t feel fit to run, because I told myself I HAD to, did not feel nice. And going to sleep peeved at myself every night because I had not run despite promising myself that I would, only added to my disease. While I’ve come a long way in terms of self-compassion and I’ve stopped engaging with the negative self talk that used to frequent my mind, old habits die hard. I clearly still have some growing to do here.. and that is absolutely ok.

Moving to Japan has been a big adjustment for me. I’m doing the best I can. I need to remember that and be kind to myself.

A Word on the Election (even though I know next-to-nothing about politics)

I cannot believe he actually won.

Over the past year, I have actively tried to avoid discussing, reading and watching videos regarding the US presidential debate. Namely, because it upset me and because in my mind, there was no way someone as hateful as Donald Trump would ever be allowed to run the most powerful country in the world. They wouldn’t let that happen.

Every once in a while I would find myself reading some article about the latest awful remark made by Trump, which resulted in my feeling upset. So I decided to just stay out of it, as I was so certain Hillary would win anyways. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Needless to say, watching the map of the US turn red on my computer screen at school that day was utterly shocking and depressing. Waking up the next day and realising that ‘yep, that actually happened’ literally made me feel sick.

I made the mistake of allowing myself to catch up on all the news, new and old, regarding the ludicrous buffoon that was the new U.S. President, and the resulting hate crimes that had taken place since the election. Omg. What a disaster.

The feeling reminded me of the way I felt after 9/11….Something bad was happening in the U.S…something hateful and terrible. It’s not my country but it will affect me. I don’t fully understand whats going on or what this means for our future, but I scared and feel less safe. I’m not sure that I have a right to even be upset, or have an opinion on the matter since I live in Canada, but I AM upset.

My fellow ALTs (many of whom are American) and I gathered to discuss the election and our sentiments towards it, and give hugs…which were needed. The vibe in the room was so sad. Everyone had their own opinions and reasons to be upset, but no one was happy about it.

Russel Brand’s opinion, outlined in this video, really resonated with me. I absolutely agree with him on this (and most things, for that matter).

Russel Brand’s Vid

How could so many people vote such a man to rule their country? Don’t they understand how awful he is and the terrible things he’s capable of? Questions that crossed many of our minds, including my own. But I do think its important to try to understand those voters, rather than blaming them.

The conclusion that makes the most sense to me (outlined in Brand’s video) is that they simply wanted change…real change. And unfortunately, Hillary Clinton was promoting a campaign that would continue to enforce the political systems that had left those very voters feeling unheard and betrayed, year after year. So in a sense, a climax such as this was inevitable (Brexit, too) in order to cease functioning the way we have been, which is clearly not working for a lot of folks.

“We have to create a world were Donald Trump isn’t necessary [to evoke change] […] and I don’t think it’s going to take place on the superficial, administrative level of Washington or Westminster Politics, it’s going to take place philosophically and deeply. Were going to have to change the way we treat each other, change the way we see ourselves, change the way we talk about the world.” #yes #nailedit #RusselBrandforpresident

From here on out, I’m choosing to be optimistic. While it may get worse before it gets better, as things often do, we can be optimistic that change is on it’s way, in one form of another. And change is good.

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This map gave me some hope.

More Tinder Adventures.. Bungee jumping!

Upon arriving in Japan back in August, I matched with a guy named Yu on Tinder. He lives near Tokyo but was in the Kyushu area (where I live) for work. He works for Bungy Japan. We chatted for a few weeks here and there and he seemed super lovely. So when he told me he was coming to Kumamoto for a bungee event and invited me to come jump, how could I say no? I always said I had no interest in bungee jumping, (it scared me) but I’ve vowed to remain a ‘yes woman’ while in Japan, which has been working well for me. Plus he said I could jump for free. (“I’m going free bungee jumping!” I told my friend earlier that week. “That sounds really dangerous” he replied. hehe.)

I’ve also stayed in touch with my other friend Oscar. Remember him? (from Blog post #5. A friend of a StFX friend who I also found on Tinder (lol)) He’s the editor of a travel magazine called ‘Fukuoka Now’ and decided to join us for bungee jumping and do a piece on it for the magazine.

A couple of days before the jump, I also asked my friend Matty if he wanted to join (not expecting him to say yes since it was so last minute) and to my pleasant surprise, he was on board!

The morning of the jump came and I awoke not feeling in the mood to jump off a bridge, what so ever. Nor was I particularly interested in the 3.5-hour drive to get there. But I went anyways, knowing the boys were expecting me and hoping that jumping off said bridge might be exactly what I need to pull me out of this ‘phase 2’ funk.

While en route, I spoke to my sister Alex on the phone for the first time in weeks. She had been away in Costa Rica and busy with her Yoga Teaching Training Course. It was soo nice to catch up with her and hear about her adventures. She herself had been bungee jumping before and explained that she did not enjoy it and wished she hadn’t of done it. Obviously, that worried me. So I stopped her right there and we agreed not to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to psych myself out.

I arrived at Matty’s and he drove the rest of the way. The majority of the drive was on skinny winding roads through the mountains. And I mean skinny. On numerous occasions we got ourselves into a pickle upon running into cars coming the opposite way. It was fun though, and the views were stunning. Surprisingly, all the mountains were full of beautiful fall colours. I hadn’t seen any fall leaves where I live and I was beginning to think Japan’s trees simply didn’t change colour. But they do indeed some areas. It reminded me so much of home.

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Matty and some fall leaves

At one point, we stopped at a roadside market in the middle of nowhere and started chatting with some foreigners. (Both foreign parties were so surprised to see one other, that saying hello was basically a requirement. I’ve experiences this a few times in my area. It’s funny.) They told us they had driven for several hours from Sasebo just to see the fall leaves. This increased my appreciation for being among them, considering we simply stumbled upon them.

Matty and I decided to try not to talk or think about the fact that we were about to jump off a 66m bridge. He was super nervous. I wasn’t nervous, per se. I just didn’t really feel up to it.

We finally made it to Itsuki town. It wasn’t hard to find the giant bridge. By this point, poor Matty was terrified. For whatever reason being in proximity to his fear actually made me feel less scared. I was ‘feeding of his fear’, I jokingly told him. But it’s true-I do this sometimes. For example, when I went for my JET interview (which is notorious for being a difficult and nerve racking interview) I was nervous. But when I arrived to the waiting room and began chatting with three other hopeful applicants I felt better. They were nervous wrecks, which somehow allowed me to overcome my fear and actually foster some additional confidence. I entered the interview feeling like I had already nailed it.

I am trying to understand the psychology behind this, but I don’t get it. Maybe because I’m able to see objectively how futile it is to be nervous? Or because some animal instinct inside of me says that one of us should be alert and calm, in case a hungry polar bear came out of nowhere. I have no idea. (Please comment and tell me how you think this works if you have any ideas.)

We walked down the bridge and were greeted by Oscar, who was in high spirits. We also met his three friends (also from the U.K.) who weren’t jumping but came to help document the experience for Fukuoka Now.

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Three brave jumpers

Being atop the bridge was pretty exciting and we ended up hanging out up there for a while, waiting for our turns. We were able to chat with the Bungy Japan staff and watch other brave jumpers dive off the platform. Since we were now atop the bridge watching others jump, the moment of standing on the edge and raising my arms in preparation to dive kept creeping up in my mind’s eye. And that did freak me out.

From where we were hanging out, on the bridge I could see my Tinder friend, Yu, who was to thank for making all of this happen. He was the person standing on the edge alongside the jumpers, giving them instructions and moral support. I waved hello, knowing he was busy and that I would meet him soon, when my time to jump came.

Matty, Oscar and I all wanted to jump first, to get it over with. So we decided to jankan for it. (Jankan is rock, paper, scissors in Japanese. This is used to settle everything in this country). I won, Oscar came second and Matty third. But upon seeing poor Matty’s reaction to his fate, Oscar and I agreed to allow him the first jump, as he was the most terrified of the lot.

Matty’s turn came and off he dove like a beautiful swam. What a champ! He got reeled up and was buzzing with adrenaline, raving about how amazing it was. I was happy to hear that after the not-so-great review I had heard from my sister. Now it was my turn.

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Matty jumps

I got strapped in and they escorted me into the cage on the edge of the bridge from which I would jump. And there was Yu! We finally got to meet properly. And it was mere moments before jumping off a bridge. What a way to meet a Tinder match for the first time eh? We hugged. I liked his energy right away.

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Yu hug.My Japanese adventures with Tinder could probably have it’s own blog. hehe

For the first time all day I felt truly nervous. My whole body was buzzing with adrenaline and nerves. ‘Sit down please’ said Yu, and motioned towards the chair on the edge of the bridge. I told him that that was a common phrase in my vocabulary since I’m always saying it to my students. He started asking me about my students, as he did some final checks on my harness. He was trying to distract me from what I was about to do and I was thankful for that. I told him I was nervous and he said ‘it’s good to be a bit nervous.’ I appreciated that comment.

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It came time to actually stand on the edge. Looking down at the river below was totally scary and I was absolutely squeamish. But I knew there was no turning back. Yu went over a couple more things and as he spoke I was thinking ‘please stop talking so we can get this over with.’ Finally, they counted me down. 5,4,3,2,1, JUMP! And so I did. It was unreal.

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Me n’ Yu

Oscar went next and amazingly seemed to have no nerves what so ever. He filmed the whole thing on his go pro, too. Hats off to him for hanging onto that thing! He used his footage from the day to make a video for his company’s website. Check out here..

Bungee Video
My favorite part of Oscar’s video is the two Japanese men explaining their jump. ‘Fear, fear, fear ,fear, very enjoy, very very enjoy, etc’ I agree completely. The first third of the jump was too scary to enjoy. But once you settled into the dive, you’re able to soak in the fun.

After our jumps, we thanked Yu and the rest of the staff and said our goodbyes. We went back to the booking office to get our certificates and they told us about a festival around the corner that was taking place that day. (I love this country- even in the middle of nowhere there is always some sort of festival going on.) Then they gave us $25 in vouchers to go spend there. Sweet! So my 5 British friends and I went over to the festival for some free lunch. It was such a good day.

The next morning, I woke up and met up with my paraglider friends Rik and Leanne, for some more extreme fun. Rik has recently been chosen as chosen as one of the thirty members for this year’s Red Bull Xalps. (One of the world’s most difficult races where members must paraglide and hike 1000kms across the Alps. Cool hey?!)

In order to fundraise, Rik’s was offering tandem glides from Amakusa’s beautiful Mount Kuratake, the same place where we paraglided together last time. Wanting to support their initiative, I enthusiastically signed up. Check out Rik’s blog with pics from the day below.

Rik’s blog

Rik and Leanne and two others were gliding that day. The five of us drove up the mountain, got our gear ready and waited for the right wind for take off. It so happened that there was a mountain climbing event that day, and many of the hikers made a stop at the take-off area on their journey up the mountain. When it came time for take off, we had an audience of about 40 Japanese hikers watching us in awe and at the ready with their cameras. It was hilarious.

After one failed take off (the line in the glider were tangled) we finally took flight. Our audience loved it. And I did too. Being up above the mountains, gliding with the birds is one of the most amazing feelings, one that I could certainly get used to. I felt nothing but gratitude for the beautiful island I live on and the amazing opportunities that have come my way since moving here. I couldn’t stop my joyful giggles. We landed and then went back up for a second glide, which was equally as glorious as the first. What a weekend!

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That’s us!

In other news…

-I started a book club. Our first book was ‘My Stroke of Insight’ which I LOVED.

-I died my hair brown and if I wear sunglasses, people think I’m Japanese and don’t stare at me!

-I went to see a psychic. My future is BRIGHT! 🙂

-I’m headed on a road trip this weekend with the crew I went to Okinawa with. I’m so looking forward to it.

-I’m spending Christmas in Tokyo with my cousin Al and my two former exchange students

Well, that post was much longer than I had originally intended. This always seems to happen… mah bad. Please comment if you’ve read it! : )

One more thing… here is my address (again). Please snail mail me. Especially you who have told me you would. (You know who you are) I check my mailbox daily in hopes of finding something other than junk mail.. cmon’ people!

863-0012
Amakusa-shi, imagama-machi 6-6
Ko-po imagama #203
Japan

xoxo

Silver Girl

aka Mary Ellen

aka Ellen (in Japan)

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7 thoughts on “Blog Post #7

  1. ELLEN omg the story about the hawk had me dying, the exact same thing happened to me at the beach with a giant seagull!! Hahahah he stole the bacon from my sandwich right out of my hand 😦

    Loving all of your adventures, girl! You’re so badass it’s amazing

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  2. omg Mare, my heart started racing when i was reading about the bungee jumping!!!! You are a rockstar!!! Love hearing about your adventures as always 🙂 Pics of the brown hair plz. LOVE YOU

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  3. Omg Mary Ellen another superb blog post. And you’re right I owe you Snail mail – I’m sure you were talking to me!
    Hope to see your Mum and Dad over the holidays- loved the pictures of them in their kimonos!
    Love
    Heath
    XxxxxoooooooO

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    1. Heath! You were one of four people that was directed towards. muhahah.
      If you see mom and dad over the holidays, take a selfie and send it my way! It would warm my heart.
      Sending love ot you and Mikey xoox

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